Letter to the Editor

How does NRD, state plan affect water?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Integrated Management Plans (IMPs) recently adopted by the Middle Republican NRD and the Upper Republican NRD in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are another step forward in water in conjunctively managing ground and surface water. The current revisions build on the steps taken with the initial plan in 2004 and later revision in 2007. The 2007 revisions established Republican River Compact compliance standards to aid in the long term. They also set up the management actions that have been refined for short term response to dry years in the 2010 revision. Improvements in this plan include an elaborate forecasting system by the DNR which will lead to steps being taken by the state and the NRDs before the impacts of a dry year become too severe. This article looks at the surface water controls in the plan and in a later article I'll talk about the ground water controls.

In the initial plan and in the revision of 2007 no controls were placed on surface water other than the normal curtailment of junior uses when supplies were low. This was because the impacts of the drought had already limited surface water supplies.

In the 2010 revision, the state has determined that surface water controls must be expanded in dry years. These additional controls include curtailment of surface water use in a dry year. This curtailment is initiated by the forecast released in January each year. If a dry year is predicted, all natural flow must be passed through the reservoirs and storage water cannot be delivered until the state is within its allocation.

Storage water will remain in the lakes -- they will not be drained. And in this plan, the irrigation districts are given the opportunity to develop an alternative plan to the curtailment. This alternative plan must be agreed to by DNR.

While this curtailment is less than desirable, Nebraska must develop a plan to stay in compliance with the compact. Surface water use has been limited but that is to be expected in dry years. Conservation practices and riparian growth have an impact on surface water supplies. Ground water use impacts these supplies also. With the ground water controls that have been adopted by the NRDs, surface water use and ground water use are nearly identical with about 8 to 9 inches being the normal application rate. Surface water must use an almost equal amount to deliver their allocation and this goes back into the system as stream flow or recharge. Evaporation from the reservoirs and canals amounts to nearly 60,000 acre feet in a year when the lakes are full. This by itself is almost the same as 8 inches of water that could be delivered.

The IMPs also include a provision that would allow for lease of surface water by the NRDs. The lease could be released in a dry year and keep restrictions from being severe on both surface water and ground water. The amount of water needed would vary from year to year when the forecast calls for restrictions but would usually be about 6 to 12 inches of water from the lakes, not 6 to 12 feet. With good planning and cooperation among all interests the economic impacts from controls in a dry year can be minimized.

-- Dan Smith is manager of the Middle Republican Natural Resources District

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